Monday Roundup: Texas Turns to Stone

Texas will convert rural blacktop to gravel • Lack of broadband use creates hardship for millions • More of the same on ag and immigration • Behavioral health programs needed in farm bill

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A Step Backwards for Texas Roads. Rather than repair blacktop roads damaged by heavy oil-industry equipment, Texas plans to convert about 80 miles of rural paved roads to gravel.

The state says it doesn’t have the funding to maintain the road surfaces on “farm-to-market” roads in parts of South and East Texas, the Texas Tribune reports. Earlier this month the Texas Legislature cut $100 million from the state Transportation budget and put the issue of more road spending on a constitutional amendment referendum slated for 2014.

With funding short for repairs, the only option is to change the roads to gravel, the Texas Department of Transportation says. But residents who use the roads don’t like the idea of driving to work and school on gravel:

Along with converting the roads to gravel, TxDOT plans to reduce the speed limits in some segments to 30 mph. [Live Oak County farmer and rancher Dane] Elliot said he doubted that oil field workers would abide by the lower limits. If they did, he said, gravel roads would be better than the current paved ones.

“It’s the people aspect of the situation right now that causes most of the problems,” he said. “These oil field guys aren’t used to working where there’s a lot of agriculture traffic. You get people trying to run over you, or running you off the road or trying to pass you when they shouldn’t be and they cause an accident.”

Darlene Meyer is a 77-year-old rancher whose property sits along a portion of FM 469 in LaSalle County that is marked for conversion to gravel. She has lived in the county since 1960 and said the current road conditions are the worst she has seen.

“Texas used to have the best roads,” she said.

Meyer said she worries about breaking an axle or popping a tire on the dilapidated paved roads. When they are converted to gravel, she said, she is concerned about the impact of the lower speed limit and about rocks that might crack windows, about potential increases in insurance rates and heavy rains that could flush out the gravel and make the roads impassable. She said she is also worried that living near a new gravel road will reduce her property value.

Broadband Access. The New York Times reports on the fate of millions of Americans who lack access to broadband, especially the elderly:

 Administration officials and policy experts say they are increasingly concerned that a significant portion of the population, around 60 million people, is shut off from jobs, government services, health care and education, and that the social and economic effects of that gap are looming larger. Persistent digital inequality — caused by the inability to afford Internet service, lack of interest or a lack of computer literacy — is also deepening racial and economic disparities in the United States, experts say.

The story echoes the findings of the Daily Yonder’s broadband series by Brian Whitacre, Roberto Gallardo and Sharon Strover, which finds that the gap between metro and rural broadband use is widening for key groups such as the elderly, low-income and most people of color.

Immigration and Ag, Take Five. More cookie-cutter op/eds from state directors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency: Connecticut, Massachusetts Kentucky, California, …

Farm Bill and Behavioral Health. The next farm bill needs to do a better job of protecting the “behavior health” of America’s farmers, says Iowa’s Dr. Mike Rosmann. In Iowa Farmer Today, Rosmann says the suicide rate of mail farmers is 60% than the general male suicide rate. He wants to see grants for behavior-health programs in the farm bill:

The average economic toll of a farmer suicide is approaching $2 million. The loss to the family and community is even greater in a psychological and social sense.

Behavioral health supports that are needed include 24/7 hotlines, websites and counseling from providers trained in agricultural behavioral health whose services are paid like an employee assistance plan. Farm people used these services at a rate of 22,000 contacts annually in a seven-state Midwest region when grant funds were available during the preceding decade.

The cost was miniscule, about $1.2 million yearly for the seven state programs. To offer services through all regions would cost about $10 million annually.

That’s a small investment to reap huge benefits. 

 

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